Air Force seeks companies that are shooting for the sky, not necessarily the moon

Will Roper holds an "Ask Me Anything" event online at the Pentagon in September 2020. (DoD / Lisa Ferdinando)

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The Air Force is looking to open another pot of money up to companies that are ready to think big, but not too big.

The department wants to shift some of its “deep tech” acquisition money to what its top procurement official is calling “skyshots” — ideas short of a full moonshot. Funding will come  through the AFWERX development program.

Will Roper, assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, says the Air Force is interested in ideas that could be game-changers but take years to mature. In this case, the goal is not to acquire specific tech, he said during an online “Ask Me Anything” event hosted by the AFWERX, the Air Force’s tech incubator based out of Austin and Washington, D.C.

“What that means is you have a direct relationship with us,” Roper said, speaking directly to interested companies. “You don’t have to master defense contracting and procurement … you simply have to master your technology.”

AFWERX has not settled on any specific areas for the skyshot funding, Roper said. He posted a poll on Twitter seeking input from the public on what topic to potentially choose. Possibilities include new ways to network sensors in battle, future energy sources and anything related to artificial intelligence. Ultimately, the broader goal is to have companies bring the Air Force ideas it is not even thinking about yet, he said.

“A white paper where you explain your technology is enough to start the relationship with us,” he said.

The program will be similar to other emerging technology programs the Air Force runs, like AFVentures and Agility Prime, its flying-car initiative.

Roper also stressed that the Air Force will not try to own the intellectual property of companies that choose to work with it. One of the goals is to “de-risk” the work of building prototypes that fit the Air Force’s needs, he said.

Roper had jokes, too. He implored companies to “swipe right” on working with the Air Force, saying that he hopes the department’s tech acquisition initiatives are “finally creating a good dating app for us.”

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Acquisition, Afwerx, Air Force, emerging technology, William Roper
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